Sunday, November 26, 2006


During the year I hallucinated I wrote to heath Canada about asthma in children. I had been concerned about it for a while and the question that was formulated in my head was, how does repeated suffocation affect the developing mind? As a follow-up, what kind of personality traits can be attributed to such an experience in the long term?

My asthma was very poorly managed as a child. I had many doctors and many visits to the hospital. I didn’t get ventolin until very late in life and I take a lot of steroids. The pump I was taking during middle school was called Intal which to me felt exactly like a placebo. It did absolutely nothing for me at all and I really couldn’t see the point after a while. If I was angry or fighting with my brother he would make sure to run up the stairs where I couldn’t follow because on the middle landing I would just collapse and lie there blowing and gasping. Mum was always terribly helpful and compassionate by taking my medicine away and then laughing from the upstairs landing. At least I could count on dad to do nothing whatsoever. I’m describing a bad day, they weren’t all like that and Alex and I are very close now. I just remember having these bad dreams and talking in my sleep which are symptoms of sleep apnea. This is something that happens when you are unable to breathe while you sleep.

The school I was in was a trap of types. Where my teachers seemed to come over all surprised that I couldn’t concentrate when I was fighting to breathe most of the time. I didn’t generally get along with anybody and I tended to second guess myself a lot. I felt the high school I went to was a better place simply because it was so far removed from what any of the other kids were doing in the school I came from. Then the main administrator took sides with my mother against me and I was pretty much finished with that. The year after I dropped out of my art program dad actually tried to be a parent for the first time in years. It was pretty sad.

My main concern at the time was that since asthma is one of the most common diseases in people my age, and people my age are very stressed and anxious lately. Depression and anxiety are running rampant in people my age, who mostly have asthma. But when we were young, asthma wasn’t treated the way that it is now, not that anyone is looking for a cure. And I just consider that maybe, just maybe, repeatedly suffocating a child will cause symptoms of depression and anxiety later in life. You know, a tendency to panic and get the jitters? The drugs used to treat asthma are great too. They feel like you’ve taken speed. The steroids are mood enhancers, so if you need to go off them, take it from someone who knows, taper off. If you just stop them one day, you will consider suicide more seriously than you ever have thus far. I know you think you have, that was just a moment of despair between drinks. Going off of cortical steroids will bring you to consider such things as, if you want to use pills, take gravol first so your body doesn’t throw up the drugs involuntarily. You consider how much liquor is in the house that you can chase down after a bottle of pills. After losing that important ritual of snorting those things every day, if a fuse goes out in your house you’ll just sit there in the dark going ah, what the hell. I can’t be bothered.

So taper off the drugs if you happen to need to. My shrink sent me to a respirologist so that I could find a different drug to take that wouldn’t affect my mood so much. The guy gave me something that I swear was even better than the speed I bought at Club Soda from a friend of my ex-boyfriend’s during an electronic\industrial music show. I must say however, that purchase was a little more light hearted. And I would go back to buying drugs in that way if the boyfriend I was with at the time wasn’t one of the reasons I ended up at the shrink’s office. So now that’s out.

Health Canada did in fact write back to me to say that in fact no-one had ever looked into the long-term psychological effects of repeated suffocation on the human psyche. Well, thanks for letting me know. Is anyone going to bother now that I’ve brought it up? We have socialized health care in this country. If there’s an impending burden coming, such as thousands of people with unmanaged asthma who need psychiatric care because they choked and suffocated so much during their lives, I think it’s worthwhile to at least crunch some numbers. No-one is looking into the relation between asthma and long-term stress and how stress is managed and certainly, my doctor who prescribed me the steroids did not even mention the correlation between steroids and mood swings. Being as there is a lot of mental illness in my family, I figured that it would be at least worthwhile to look into that. You know, maybe I’m, uh, high risk?

When I tried to find a psychiatrist that was a fucking nightmare. You need to have a referral to see one, so if you don’t have a family doctor, like me, it becomes a little difficult. You see I don’t enjoy going to doctors, and I haven’t found a lot of them that I trust, so I tend to stay away. I went to a clinic near where I live. I was told to leave and come back three times at that place because the doctor came in later than expected. Finally I went home and called ahead before I went back to make sure someone was actually there. Normally that sort of thing would bring up a type of warning sign for me, but unfortunately I was hallucinating, so I wasn’t paying very close attention. I get there and I’m trying to keep calm, but not succeeding, and I tell the doctor what my symptoms are. He gives me five names, all of them are within my area of the city. He also prescribes anti-depressants for me to take. He had known me for 10 minutes. He did not know my family history, he did not take any blood tests. He had no idea what effect these drugs would have on me. He just did that because one of my symptoms was trouble sleeping and he thought it would get me off to la la land. I did not fill that prescription, but I did call all of the names on the list. None of them were able to take patients except one, who had a waiting list 3 months long. If I was to actually get discouraged enough at that point to just give in which is I’m sure what the reason is for this situation, but the part of me that actually asked for help is extremely stubborn, so I didn’t down a bunch of pills and whiskey, I instead called the one hospital in the city that is always taking new patients in all areas. I explained the problem to them, I told them I was having trouble getting a referral, so they told me exactly how to get one. Their walk-in clinic has an affiliation with another clinic outside of the hospital and I could get one there. So I did, and ended up finally with my referral. But only after explaining what was going on to yet another stranger.

It was a rough year. Chronologically, my boyfriend left for higher pursuits, (ass kicking to come), worst asthma attack in years which triggered 3 week long panic, hallucinations begin, can’t go back to work, can’t find doctor, more panic, find doctor, new job, hallucinations end, Christmas, iguana dies, get robbed, here I am.

I also wrote to a doctor who had written a book about the nature of bi-polar disorder. He was far more supportive than most of the people I met during this period.

The respirologist in charge of the sleep clinic at the second hospital I went to told me to have a breath test. I did it and it was possibly the most pornographic thing I have ever done. And I’ve done one or two things in my time.

I got to the hospital on the day of the test and I went up to where the lab is where I had to wait. I waited and finally went in when the techs came in and I saw them go in the very same door I went in but no-one called me. It was either that or wait around. I took a test that seemed normal, breathe into this tube so that we can measure your lung capacity yada yada yada, but then I was shown this glass box. And the lab tech said to me, get in the box. And I asked why and he said so that they could measure my breath when they cut of the oxygen. Cut off the oxygen. For someone like me with asthma and a few panic issues, I’m not sure this is the best way to go about treating me. So I look at the guy and he’s totally serious. He asked if I was nervous and I said yes, so he said we could do the test with the door open. So why do I need to be in the box at all if you can do it with the door open? So I get in and the door is open and that doesn’t help at all cause I’m still in this glass box. And I have to blow on this tube and he has me panting and blowing like a porn star. It’s a weird fucking test. I have to really really pant like a dog and then keep doing it when they cut the oxygen off. It was all highly unpleasant and I had the weird feeling that it was all some kind of bizarre joke.

There was really no need for me to do that. I just did what the guy said because it was easier than arguing. He was a lab technician, and he had no way of truly evaluating if this was going to do me any good or not. He was a lab technician. But I went along with it because apparently this test I took would help to truly decide how sick I am and whether or not I would be able to totally recover. I wasn’t even there for my breathing per se. It’s just the fact that my shrink sent me there in order to rule out any physical reasons that may have precipitated the hallucinations. We have a tendency not to question doctors because they have a title, but I see them pretty much like most people. They are people who have an education and they get to make educated guesses based on that education. They’re people with their own opinions and prejudices as anyone and after 10 years in medical school, you easily become a type of mechanic. After that point you totally forget that you’re dealing with a person who has a way of life that is being disrupted by illness that you need to treat. The treatment in and of itself can be intrusive to their way of life, but you don’t know. You’re a car to them. A rattle under the hood. Their trespass is assumption and the almost total shock when something new presents itself for examination and just possibly, to heal.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

This is not America

Speak for yourself...

Howard Dean will give the keynote address at the next Liberal convention where a leader will be chosen. My previous predictions aside, it will be Bob Rae, the only man on earth more forgettable than John Manley, my pick last season. And in this party beset by squabbling, dependence on the mainstream media, poor use of intelligence and no leadership whatsoever, is it any surprise that they are looking to take advice from the only man who more publicly screwed himself out of a leadership nomination? Pick some winners guys, it’s getting embarrassing.

The Conservative Party did exactly the same thing when they allowed Stevie the monstrous luxury of steering Ottawa westward through the plains. He had never won anything he had ever set out to do. In political parties and in lobby groups he had failed consistently over and over. He managed to divide the vote in his own favour just enough not to gain any particular support, make allies or convince us he was a good choice, none of that. He made enough of us spiteful (and rightly so) towards our leader at the time who by the way, had no concept of how to win himself, that we chose him as a “viable alternative”. Martin, a true example of how to sit on your laurels, never once came on the offensive, never once reminded the country of our ridiculous, insane, exorbitant surpluses, never once reached out to Quebec, he simply perched there like a toad confused by new building developments near its home.

Enter Jack Layton who had the chance to get a few things on the table, came completely sideways towards getting anyone behind him on anything, and Duceppe who spoke eloquently, passionately, had a coherent message and didn’t back down. Those two undermined themselves, Layton on mandatory minimums, Duceppe on Quebec as a nation.

We lack leadership. Our government is currently run from a winning, yet minority party. They need to make allies, they need to work together with other parties, and they need to convince those who oppose them that their ideas are good. What we get rather than that sadly, is posturing, name-calling and dunderheaded idiocy masked as “getting things done”. Funding for the arts are cut, funding for the women’s lobby is cut, and for three weeks straight I was forced to ponder the Mackay-Rice Question.

Cheney visited Alberta a few years ago which had me screaming at the top of my lungs because he went straight to the premier, Ralph Klein and did not meet once with the Prime Minister. My head came off again this year when Steven Harper visited George W. Bush for his birthday bearing gifts of lovely shiny things. Harper has been taking cues from the under-the-radar, seemingly grassroots tactics of the GOP in the states. Word gets out for rallies via email forwards and direct mail. Huge groups of people gather and reporters scratch their heads wondering how they didn’t know about it sooner. These are usually religious groups who mix politics with the afterlife and tend to treat their own country’s policies with the same dogmatism they treat their spiritual lives. That’s how the Conservatives got so strong in Catholic Quebec without anyone figuring it out. And all the while the pollsters stand staring, saying they couldn’t possibly have seen it coming.

The Liberal Party appears to be trying something similar. The only thing, well, okay. There’s no nice way to put this: Pick someone who can win. The record of your mentors will speak volumes for the quality of advice they can offer. Stevie, are you there? This is for you too. The United States of America is not a democracy; it is a republic. They have massive divisions in a much smaller space, a much bloodier history and a vastly higher population. We in Canada don’t live in a democracy either; we are a constitutional monarchy. We may not take any appreciable cues from the British Royal family now, but our parliamentary system, its rules and regulations, its functions and properties, our principles of self-government in fact are based on management of a state on behalf of an absent leader. The Prime Minister is literally meant to manage the affairs of the country as needed, taking the occasional advice from the governor general who reports to the queen. We have far larger provinces, huge amounts of elbow-room, and a much smaller population in comparison to our next door neighbor. I don’t think based on these differences that it is unreasonable to expect elections to be run differently in our two spaces. We have a long history of doing uncomfortable things that shaped who we are. We have also a long history of addressing our own sovereignty. Our automatic deployment in WWI at the behest of England divided Quebec against the rest of the Anglophone country at the time, and set the stage for further divisions and ignorance for many years to come. Trudeau’s refusal to send troops to Vietnam made him extremely unlikable by our neighbor. We developed the CRTC with the mandate specifically to ensure that there is some Canadian content in the media we use to communicate to each other, we held two referendums on Quebec and chose by close margins to remain a country.

This is not America. We are Canadians and we expect if I may, something better. We deserve real information and not hate ads. We deserve real leadership and not headscratchers asking “how did that happen?” We deserve leadership. In the last few years, our citizens have been deported by another country as they tried to come home and our leaders and their hired help did nothing. Our activists have been placed in the custody of the DEA while committing no crime in our country. We have refused time and again to address any national interests held by First Nations, and finally the softwood lumber question has been answered by a duplicit fire-starter.

Liberals, for the love of God, reach back to your roots. Remember what made Jean-Chr├ętien fun. Remember how unlikable Trudeau was even here for quite some time. Remember the budget surpluses and for god’s sake remember that Howard Dean is going to offer only enough advice to ensure Steven gets a majority next time. Conservatives, you must find a leader who is more, well, Canadian. A flapjack flipper Stevie may be, but who in their right mind would cave on softwood at a time when we were winning, cut the GST and then claim to be fiscally responsible? He may compare his party to that of Paul Martins and sneer, but he must live with the knowledge that despite all the scandals, despite the misuse of funds, above and beyond all that, our country was rich and safe and free.

Jack and Gilles, climb up Parliament Hill. Do you remember what happens next? Stop it stop it stop it stop it, or we’ll all come tumbling down behind you. Get the schmooze back on, dust off your mojos. Start convincing other parties and provincial premiers that accepting these actions at face value is not an option. If I had to go through a no-confidence vote about tiny flags and golf balls because of Harper, you can bet that given a good reason like our Constitution, our sovereignty, our health-care or our fucking lumber, I’ll happily skip to the polls and again tell Harper what I think of him via ballot.

We have an obligation to run our own country well and by our own standards. Shying from the ideas of others is certainly not what we are about, nevertheless we must take whatever care we can to find our own way, our own values and yes, our own keynote speakers.